News Opinion

The Complex Carers Addressing the Needs of an Ageing Population

Sharon Lane, Head of Complex Care for The Practice Group

The demand for complex care assistants has never been greater. With the UK’s ageing population fueling the numbers of individuals receiving local authority funded home care support (80% growth is expected by 2035 according to the Personal Social Services Research Unit[i]), an increasing proportion of these will need complex healthcare support.

Complex care refers to the healthcare of individuals with long-term illnesses or disabilities, to include anything from brain injuries, neurological disorders and mental health conditions to spinal injuries, dementia or learning disabilities. And because this requires specialist support, there is a growing demand for complex care assistants.

However, one of the biggest challenges is getting the right people onboard, as the skills and duties of a complex carer are quite different to other caring roles. It’s therefore essential to highlight the key differences between a complex and a domestic care assistant’s role, so the right individuals are recruited to deliver the best possible care in the years ahead.

Compared to a domestic carer who typically provides emotional and practical support involving anything from feeding, washing, dressing and maintaining a patient’s hygiene, to helping them with shopping or administrative tasks, a complex carer’s role is much more clinical. While retaining aspects of personal and domestic care, a much larger part of their role involves clinical support, to help patients better manage a range of complex care conditions. Duties can range from airway management including tracheostomy and ventilation, to management of bowel and catheter care, and peg and jej management.

With no two days ever the same due the complexity of a patient’s health, often compounded by more than one condition, the working environment of the complex carer can be more unpredictable than a domestic carer’s. A complex carer must be flexible and responsive, as they never know how quickly a patient’s health could alter over the course of their shift. Team dynamics can also change rapidly, with a carer previously working alone needing to call in extra support when circumstances demand it.

Complex carers can experience some extremely challenging situations, so training is critical to equip them with the skills to manage this. Complex care assistants undergo an intensive one-week clinical induction course, giving them an essential grounding of the wide range of scenarios they might face, from caring for a patient with mental health issues to another with ventilator dependencies. A clinical nurse will then monitor how they respond to stressful situations and will ensure they can administer exactly the right support, as and when it is required.

In contrast to domestic caring roles where duties typically stay the same, for the complex carer fresh learning opportunities are never too far away. TPG Complex Care tends to recruit for specific patient care packages, but given the range of healthcare needs they need to manage, there is always the opportunity to learn new skills and acquire fresh experiences when caring for new patients. This also provides great career progression opportunities, with the chance to quickly advance to a Rapid Response Team or Management position.

Life as a complex care assistant can be extremely fulfilling and worthwhile. But if we are to meet the complex healthcare needs of future generations, we are going to have to communicate these attributes more widely to recruit the necessary numbers to keep up with demand.

[i] Projections of Demand for and Costs of Social Care for Older People and Younger Adults in England, 2015 to 2035, Economics of Health and Social Care Systems Policy Research Unit – Personal Social Services Research Unit – research paper September 2015



Edel Harris





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